Bjorn! on the Fourth of July (A Barbara Marr Short Story)

BOOK: Bjorn! on the Fourth of July (A Barbara Marr Short Story)

I blame myself. I showed her the poster.

What kind of name is that for a
magician, anyway?

See, my youngest daughter Amber was going through
a new phase. She'd had her fairy phase, her Disney Princess phase, and her
Josie and the Pussycats phase. Now she was going through a Houdini phase.
Houdini to be precise.
A character in a series of early readers she'd
found in her first grade classroom. Amber had a new obsession – magic. Okay. I
could deal with that. In fact, not all girls want to be magicians, so I
actually liked the break from traditional female stereotyped career
aspirations. She didn't want to starve herself half to death to be a supermodel
– she wanted to be a magician.
Pretty cool.

So, I showed her the poster.

I was optimistic and had energy when I showed
her the poster.

It was only 78 degrees outside when I showed
her the poster.

And, if I had to be entirely,
one hundred percent honest...
I really thought I could convince Howard
to take Amber to see
the Fourth of
July when I showed her that poster.

But, when I climbed out of bed at six a.m. on
the day of the big event, I wasn't optimistic, I was pessimistic. And I
certainly wasn't energetic. No, no, no. I was exhausted from attempting to
sleep in an oven of a house whose air conditioning had gone on the fritz in the
middle of the most horrendous heat wave Rustic Woods had seen in years.
Seven straight days of 100-plus degrees with humidity so thick that
the mosquitoes were wearing oxygen tanks.
And trust me, when your worst
menopausal hot flashes visit you between midnight and three in the morning and
you sleep next to a man who somehow radiates more than his 98.6 degrees of body
heat, that wonky thirty-year-old ceiling fan over the bed just doesn't cut it.

I figured that maybe, if I was lucky, I'd
managed two, maybe two and a half hours of sleep somewhere in there during the
night. I was going to need coffee and I was going to need lots of it.

So I took a cold shower, slipped into a pair of
skimpy shorts and a tank top, and made my way downstairs grumbling the entire
way. Why? Why did the AC have to go out the day before a major holiday? What
sort of Karmic crime did I commit? Did I kill one too many spiders when I could
have just removed them humanely? That was probably it. I knew my fear of
spiders would come back to haunt me some day. See, removing spiders doesn't
solve the problem because they'll just come back into the house and I'm sorry,
but spiders scare me worse than Mel Gibson mug shots.

I was hunched over a bowl of Captain Crunch at
our kitchen table when Amber plopped into the chair next to me shoving the
in my face.

Her own smile formed a crescent from one ear to
the other. "Are you ready to be amazed, Mommy?"

She was referring to the words on the glossy
page, in brilliant gold font, which read as follows:


the Fourth of July

the Rustic Woods Independence Day Festival

like you've never seen before

to be amazed!

on the Lake Muir Stage

Underneath was a publicity headshot of a
dashingly handsome, shockingly blond young man with a politician's smile and
sparkling, white teeth.

Like I said, it looked like a great idea two
weeks earlier.
Not so much.

"Honey, I think your daddy is taking

Her head shook vehemently while her smile
drooped. "No he's not. He's taking Callie and Bethany to a five cake. He
just told me. Usually I'd beg to go because you know cake is my favorite food,
but I want to see Bjorn more. It's magic like you've never seen."

Yes, yes. I know. I showed her the poster.

Howard bounded into the kitchen too full of
energy and definitely dressed for a run. He opened the refrigerator door and
retrieved the orange juice carton.

"You're not really still planning to take
the girls to run that 5K today,
you? It's like,
two hundred degrees out there."

"Barb, give me a break.
seventy-two degrees, I checked. The run starts at eight and will be over by
nine so we'll be just fine," he said as he poured.

I threw him my practiced skeptical frown.
"I don't like the idea. It's not safe. I really think you should skip it
this year."

"You mean, so I can stand on steaming hot
pavement under the blistering noon sun to watch a man pull a rabbit out of a

Blistering noon sun
Who did he think he was, Hemingway? "Aha!" I shouted, wagging an
accusatory finger at him. "So you
doing this just to avoid
taking Amber to the magic show. I knew it, you avoider you!"

"Mommy," Amber said, "you don't
want to see Bjorn with me?" Her sad voice could've made hardened criminals

After I pulled the finely sharpened dagger out
of my guilty heart, I got my selfish head back on straight.
bad, Mommy.
What's a little discomfort compared to the joy and wonder my
daughter would experience when she saw

I patted her hand. "I'm sorry, sweetie. I
do. I do want to be amazed." I turned back to Howard. "If the run is
over by nine, then you'll be home in time so we can all go together. It's the
Independence Day Festival so there will be other fun things too."

He winced. "I promised Colt we'd stick
around and help with clean-up. I don't think we'd get home in time. How about
we meet you there?"

I couldn't argue with that. Colt was our best
friend and business partner who, in the goodness of his heart, volunteered with
the Rustic Woods Nature
Center to put on their
annual Fourth of July Save the Forests 5K. "That works," I
acquiesced. "Take your cell phone then, so we can connect. That place gets
so crowded. Amber and I will probably have to be there a half-hour early to get
a place close to the stage."

Amber clapped her hands and bounced in her
chair. "Thank you, thank you,
She settled for a minute, placed her own hand over mine and grew very serious.
"You won't be disappointed," she said, then jumped up from her chair
and ran from the room shouting, "Bjorn!
Fourth of July!
! Prepare to be amazed!"

I blew out a sigh and looked at Howard.
"She's awfully excited about this. I hope

He gulped down the last of his juice then set
the glass in the sink. "You showed her the poster."


To plan my morning after Howard and the girls
left, I worked my thinking backward from noon. If we wanted to be in front of
the stage at 11:30, we'd need fifteen minutes of driving time and five minutes
for parking which could be tricky during the Independence Day Festival. And
we'd better add a couple minutes for walking just in case we had to park really
far away. So that meant leaving the house around 11:05. The kitchen clock read
Plenty of time.
I considered the many things
that needed to be done.
of laundry.
God must assume that I love laundry, because unlike money,
there's always plenty of it. Sigh. I didn't feel like doing laundry on the
Fourth of July.

I filled a hot water bottle with crushed ice,
grabbed the remote control, laid on the couch with the cool rubber bottle on my
chest, and began channel surfing. No air conditioning on the fourth of July
called for relaxing with a good movie. The typical movies were on:
Born on
the Fourth of July
Independence Day
, and
Yankee Doodle Dandy
but I decided to go off-theme and watch an oldie but goodie –
Some Like it
. It seemed appropriate.

Setting the remote down on the coffee table, I
settled in, plumping up a pillow under my head and getting super comfortable.
Probably a little too comfortable.
Remember: I was operating
on very little sleep.

I was shaken awake by Amber waving the cordless
phone in my face. "It's Mrs. Rubenstein. She wants to know where her
avocado dip is."

My eyes popped open and I bolted upright.

I'd forgotten the avocadoes.
the onions, lime, garlic, tomatoes, jalapeno pepper, and cilantro.
Actually, what I'd forgotten was the guacamole that I had promised my dear
friend, Peggy Rubenstein, over a week ago. She needed it for a party she was
hosting for soccer kids and their parents. She said she could never make it as
good as I did – probably because when she looked for a recipe, she searched on
"avocado dip." To know Peggy was to love her for her inability to
remember the correct names of just about everything. I grabbed the phone from
Amber's little hand while trying to get my still-sleepy eyes to focus.
"Peggy! I'm so sorry!"

"You're just running a little late,
right?" she asked.

"Um, I'm kind of running a lot late."

"They start arriving soon! Barb, please
say you didn't forget."

"You don't want me to lie, do you?"

"You forgot!" she shouted.

I felt terrible, but knew I could make it
right. "What time is it now?"

"Ten thirty."

That wasn't so bad. I could work with that.
"I'll head over to the store right now and be at your house

"You don't even have the ingredients
yet?" she asked.

"I have them in spirit, just not in a
shopping bag."

"Well, if you're going to the store
anyway," she said, her voice relaxing, "could you pick me up a gallon
of lemonade?"


"And two pounds of hamburger?"


"And hot dogs and buns if it's not too
much trouble – hamburger and hot dog."

"Peggy, did you buy anything for this

"Let's just say we make good friends
because we're both a little forgetful. Oh, and two big bags of chips for the
avocado dip. You're the best."

I'd kill her if I didn't love her so darned
much. I hung up the phone and ran across the room for my flip-flops while
shouting orders to Amber. "We have to go now – can you grab my guacamole
recipe out of the recipe drawer while I get my purse?"

"Sure, Mommy.
aren't going to be late for Bjorn!
, are

"No, no.
Not at all.
It's a holiday, the store will be empty and I know where everything is. We'll
be in and out in five minutes, over to Peggy's in another five – I'll leave her
with the ingredients and recipe and we'll be on our way."

We met at the front door, me with my purse over
my shoulder and keys in hand, Amber with a cape over her shoulders, magician's
hat on her head, and the infamous recipe. I had to smile. She really was prepared
to be amazed.

We stepped into the soggy air. I swear my shirt
took exactly three seconds to stick to my skin like it had been super glued.
Meanwhile, Amber skipped to the van, her cape flapping slightly in the breeze
she created. Taking her cue, I pushed away the
turned my frown upside down, and decided, despite the mild setback, to approach
the day with a positive vibe. We were on our way to some magical fun. Magic
like we'd never seen before. We were going to see Bjorn!
action and life would be good.

I had to work to keep that smile on my face,
however, when looking for a parking spot in the unexpectedly crowded lot at Rustic Woods
Shopping Center. Okay, I
told myself, there are other stores here besides the Food Mart. Probably tons
of people getting iced coffee concoctions at The Java Hut. I scanned the store
fronts. The bank was closed.
was closed.
Hunan Rustic Woods was closed. My pulse rate quickened. If there weren't at
least a hundred people in line at The Java Hut, we were in trouble.

When we couldn't find a shopping cart, I knew
we were doomed.

"Mommy," Amber said quietly, looking
around the store as we entered. "It's not
empty. In fact, I'd say this place is pretty full." She looked up at me
and added, as if I might not have understood her meaning, "Full of

I threw a thankful smile to a man who offered
me an empty cart on his way out. "Don't worry. I know this store like the
back of my hand. We'll start here in the produce department, make our way
through meats and chips, and finish off in the bread aisle. Brenda is the fast
checker..." I stood on my
toes to search
for Brenda and found her on number ten conveniently right at the end of the
bread aisle. Karma seemed to be pleased with my simple acknowledgement that
there was probably a better way to get rid of a spider than to unleash a full
can of bug spray on its scary little body, and had, in Karma-kindness, placed
Brenda right where I needed her. Thank you, Karma, thank you.

We did in fact speed through the store with a
good amount of ease and only two cart collisions, which, I'll admit, were my
fault. Thank goodness they don't cite people in grocery stores for reckless
driving. I apologized profusely to both parties, one of whom was a hunched over
little old lady with very thick glasses in the chip aisle. Once she regained
her composure after my cart slammed into hers, I noticed her staring with some
puzzlement at the top shelf. "Would you like me to reach something up
there for you?" I asked. It was the least I could do after adding several
more silver hairs to the already nearly-white tuft on her head.

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